Wearable technology technology may currently be able to count your steps, or take pictures with voice commands, but some researchers at Georgia Tech are now getting ready to help dogs talk more directly with people. Winners of the Best Paper award at ISWC 2013, the team behind FIDO, or “Facilitating Interactions for Dogs with Occupations,” presented their work developing communication technology for assistance dogs and their owners.
While these intelligent animals are capable of distinguishing between many different possible environmental threats, they are limited in their capability to communicate directly about specific topics. The FIDO project proposes that the dogs could be given a wearable tool that would give them the ability to not only signal the presence of a threat or concern, but also the importance and severity to the owner. To illustrate the need, lead researcher Melody Jackson describes different events featuring either a knock on the door and a tornado siren – it’s clear that assistance dogs know the difference between the two, but have limited means to properly alert their owner what is happening.
The research team proposed a solution to this problem in the form of a wearable technology vest for the dogs, with a variety of possible triggers that can be deployed. Various bite sensors, tugging sensors, and motion sensors have all been tested with their group of trained border collies and labrador retrievers, with each sensor proving various degrees of accuracy with each dog. With suitable training, each dog was able to trigger sensors based on various stimuli, and successfully communicate detailed information with their handlers. The FIDO researchers took advantage of this in a highly successful presentation at ISWC that concluded with one of their border collies using on-body sensors to advance the slide deck.
The FIDO team see a broad application for this technology, applying to the full range of dogs with jobs – including assistance and search and rescue animals. Future work will include refining the types of sensors that they use, and experimenting with the number of individual triggers that the dogs can reliably operate. A rudimentary vocabulary may eventually grow out of this work, allowing dogs to communicate more nuanced details with the human they work with, and opening up many new opportunities to incorporate dogs in complex activities. For now, FIDO hints at a future where wearable technology is not limited solely to human applications, but can give a stronger voice to creatures that rarely get one.